LotRFI Pt.42–Merry

While I saw Pippin’s lightheartedness as a very relatable trait, I was also able to identify with Merry during certain points of the epic. Unlike my adulation of Pippin’s jovial nature and individual growth, my identification with Merry was from a negative perspective.

 

Merry’s time alone in Rohan was perhaps the most affective part of his story for me. His time with Théoden begins in happiness. He is honored and sits next to the king and regales him with stories (RK, V, iii, 796). When word comes that the Rohirrim must go aid Gondor, Théoden telld Merry that he cannot go with them.

‘You shall abide here, and if you will, you shall serve the Lady Éowyn, who will govern the folk in my stead’ (RK, V, iii, 803).

Merry becomes indignant because he does not wish to be left out:

‘But, but, lord,’ Merry stammered, ‘I offered you my sword. I do not want to be parted from you like this, Théoden King. And as all of my friends have gone to battle, I should be ashamed to stay behind…tie me to the back of [a horse], or let me hang on a stirrup, or something.’

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Image copyright John Howe

This kind of useless bargaining and pleading between someone lower in position and a figure in authority reminded me very much of interactions I had had with my parent not many years before reading LotR (and perhaps some interactions even at the time of reading, if I am honest with myself). In a sense, Merry’s subordinate role in Rohan as a figure of entertainment one moment and as a burden the next mirrors a lot of the childhood experience.

The next chapter set in Rohan (RK, V, v) opens with Merry reflecting on his isolation. To make matters worse, the first interaction Merry has is with Elfhelm the Marshal who trips over him and curses him as a tree root. Merry stands up for himself, saying:

‘I am not a tree-root Sir…nor a bag, but a bruised hobbit’ (RK, V, v, 831).

Although his daring is not rewarded very kindly, as Elfhelm still calls him ‘Master Bag’ at the close of their conversation (RK, V, v, 831). Then Merry is overlooked as he ‘crept’ close enough to the conversation between Théoden and Ghân-buri-Ghân to narrate the scene for the reader (RK, V, v, 832).

The Rohirrim constantly ignore and/or disregard Merry. Perhaps this is a kind of othering. While it can, of course, be interpreted in many ways, this othering always reminded me of those times when adults would tell me to settle down, be quiet, and stop getting in the way. This really resonated with me as a child. Though I had what I would consider a happy childhood, I certainly experienced this kind of reprimand on occasion. The kind of loneliness and isolation that can accompany such an encounter feels on-par with what Merry experiences in Rohan. I could easily relate to the feeling of dejection that Merry feels.

My reflection on Merry’s part at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and the Scouring of the Shire will come later.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Onward, to battle!

What Do You Think?

How did you read Merry’s experience in these chapters?
Do you think this reading is feasible or insane?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.41–Pippin

Pippin has always been my favorite hobbit. I was first interested in him because of how funny he is in the first book, especially in “Three is company” and “Shortcut to Mushrooms.” He remained my favorite because I appreciated his process of maturation as the story progresses.

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Image copyright Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

His cheerful spirit serves as a comedic relief during many of the less active passages in the text. From his snarky comment in Rivendell,

‘”Gandalf has been saying many cheerful things like that”’ (FR, II, i, 226)

to his curiosity in Moria, which lands the Fellowship in some trouble, Pippin remains fairly charming and lighthearted. It is not until Gandalf grows angry and berates Pippin

‘”Fool of a Took…This is a serious journey, not a hobbit walking party. Throw yourself in next time, and you will be no further nuisance. Now be quiet!”’ (FR, II, iv, 313)

that he starts to transform into a more serious and responsible character. This interaction in Moria, reminded me of a parent scolding a child. Pippin did something which was outside the normal expectations and it could have, and ultimately has, dire consequences. Gandalf chides him in the way that a concerned mother or father might express exasperation at a child who touches a stove or runs into the street. This confrontation seemed to me to be the starting point for Pippin’s transformation.

The two places where Pippin’s character shows real growth are in his actions to escape the Uruk-Hai in Rohan, and in his time spent in Gondor. When he is with the Uruk-Hai, Pippin is not a passive observer of events. Instead, he keeps his wits and not only manages to escape, but also leaves a clue for the Three Hunters to follow.

Pippin’s largest step toward becoming a responsible adult is his time spent in Gondor. Here he volunteers his service to the steward of Gondor to repay his debt to Boromir:

‘”Little service, no doubt, will so great a lord of Men think to find in a hobbit, a halfling from the northern Shire; yet such as it is, I will offer it, in payment of my debt.”’ (RK, V, I, 754/5).

He feels accountable for Boromir’s death and seeks to make amends. Not only does this act show Pippin becoming more mature, but it puts him in a role of responsibility. A role which he performs very well. His next show of responsibility is that he chaperones Bergil, Beregond’s son, around Minas Tirith. Pippin no longer interacts with Bergil as his equal, though he cannot resist an occasional joke, but he sets restrictions on Bergil and enforces them. Finally, Pippin’s decision to disobey Denethor’s wishes and save Faramir shows the kind of complex reasoning and questioning of authority that is typically associated with maturity. He is not simply rebelling against authority because it is authoritative, nor is he blindly following it. He weighs consequences and decides to act in the way he think is best. Though I could not have expressed ,many of these concepts in this way when I was a kid, I certainly respected Pippin’s growth as an individual, and understood that he had earned responsibility and was using his judgement wisely.

Pippin’s story is a bildungsroman. This greatly impacted me in my first several readings of LotR. I will talk about the Scouring of the Shire in a later post, but I think the arc of Pippin’s character is clear already. He stays jovial throughout the text, I love his interaction with the Three Hunters in “Flotsam and Jetsam,” but he matures over the course of his journey. This is why Pippin was, and still is, my favorite hobbit from LotR.

Where Do We Go From Here?

We will look at Merry next, then explore the Battle of Pelennor Fields.

What Do You Think?

What did you think of Pippin in the early parts of the text?

Did your impression of him change as he developed over the course of the story?

Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.39–Sam’s “Meta” Moments

One of the inspirational aspects of Tolkien’s work which really stuck with me in my first reading was Sam’s perceptive moments where he talks about how the adventure he is in is like the adventure he learned as a child. A great example of this tendency occurs of the Stairs of Cirith Ungol Chapter. Sam recounts part of the tale of Beren and Luthien and then falls into reflection, saying:

‘But that’s a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it…and why, sir, I never thought of that before! We’ve goy – you ‘ve got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?’ (TT, IV, viii, 712)

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Image copyright Ulla Thynell

Then Frodo and Sam talk about the nature of stories and the part that characters play in them. This was important to me because it gave me a connection to the characters I was reading about. I wanted to believe that these stories were real, that they mattered. This vision of how a story could impact the life of the listener/reader was very inspiring to me. I think that, had it not been for the several moments like this in TT and RK, perhaps LotR would not have been as impactful on me. Not only did these passages make this story more meaningful, they made reading as an activity more important. I really internalized these observations a lot in my first reading.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I believe we will start RK with a visit to Minas Tirith. That seems fitting!

What Do You Think?

What is your impression of these moments with Sam?
Have these episodes ever impacted your reading outside of Tolkien?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.34–Sam and His Creature Comforts

I was always a very curious, some would say nosy, child. I was always trying to understand why things happened or why people made the choices they made. I was a big fan of “reading into” things ever since I discovered it as an activity. While this tendency led me into hot water many times, I had not yet learned to dull this passion by the time I read LotR. One of the activities I “read into” the most was Sam’s constant attention to Frodo’s needs and comfort—don’t get ahead of me here, or maybe you will end up in hot water.

Perhaps the most notable example where I uncovered Sam’s motivation is when Sam attempts to cook a nice stew for Frodo in Ithilien. The reader hears Sam’s thoughts in this passage, which make some clear indications about the emotions that inspire him to make the meal:

‘I love him. He’s like that, and sometimes it shines through, somehow. But I love him, whether or no’ (TT, IV, iv, 652).

‘Too thin and drawn he is…Not right for a hobbit’ (TT, IV, iv, 653).

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Image copyrights Sergei Yukhimov

Sam’s compassionate nature in general, and his affection for Frodo especially, are not disguised in the tale. What is interesting is how those feelings manifest themselves in, essentially, attempting to care for Frodo as if he were Frodo’s parent—more specifically his mother, as foreshadowed by David Craig, but I would not have made this more specific observation as a child. Sam is attempting to preserve Frodo’s sense of security and his sense of comfort: trying to remind Frodo of home and the good things which life has to offer. This was an interesting observation for me when I first realized it. It was probably easier for me to notice than some others because I grew up in the American south—where the stereotype is that a mother expresses love through food. In any case, I always had a soft-spot for affection expressed through quiet moments of understanding and small gestures of love (I did mention that Call of the Wild was one of my favorite books, remember).

This deep friendship between Frodo and Sam was something which I cherished as a young reader. While I frequently compared my relationships to the ones in the book, I do not know if I ever considered if I had a relationship quite like the one between Frodo and Sam, I do not think so. While I did not have a relationship like this, it did not seem odd to me that they should be so close. Many fans have questioned the feelings between Frodo and Sam, and many scholars have pointed out that the overtones that readers notice to make such assertions are indicative of a type of friendship between men that existed in a different time. As a young reader, none of this occurred to me. I thought their fondness a perfectly natural thing. I realized that I did not have a friendship like theirs, but it was not until I started growing up that I realized that men in my culture do not tend to have such close bonds or at least express affection as openly and deeply.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I want to journey to the Black Gate, then visit with Faramir!

What Do You Think?

What did you make of Sam’s tendency to, essentially, nurture Frodo?
How has your reading of their relationship changed over time?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt. 33–Of The Dead Marshes

I like to credit Tolkien as the first author I ever read whose use of structure or style to elicit emotion I became aware of. I always knew that writers used plot to guide the reader, but this was something different. It started in the Shire. I became anxious that the hobbits should be off and that the story was taking so long. Then I realized that this was probably the same kind of emotion which Frodo must have: an anxiety of leaving, but an anxiousness to start.

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Image copyright Katrin Eissmann

This realization opened literature to me. I may very well have been projecting this back into the story, but it was a significant factor in my enjoyment of the story. I realized, for the first time, that the writer was trying to take my mood into account in his style or method of telling the story, not just with the plot itself.

This feeling redoubled for me as I went through the Marshes. The Dead Marshes were such a dreary place. I do not know if it took me longer to read the Frodo and Sam half of TT, but it certainly felt like it did. I felt like I plodded along through these sections at a miserably slow pace. I think the consistently dark landscape and the unrelenting sense of foreboding were tiring to me. Additionally, reading Gollum’s lines was difficult. There are a lot of linguistic complexities which made me slow down.

In all, my reading experience of book IV was very different form my experience of book III. I must admit that I enjoyed the story surrounding Rohan much more than I enjoyed the darker tale of the approach to Mordor. It is not until much later that I began to appreciate each book, and the latter grew in my estimation.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I want to talk a little bit about Sam and his emphasis of creature comforts.

What Do You Think?

Was your reading experience of the second half of TT different from that of the first?
How did you feel while reading these passages?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.31–Gimli

My fondness for Gimli grew very much over the course of book III. Since the passages in and around Moria were the highlight of my prior experience with Gimli, there was not a lot of character development to him other than his obstinacy and tendency to argue against everything Legolas mentions. Basically, I did not read him as a well-defined character until book III.

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Image copyright Matt Stewart

I believe that this started in the passages of the Three Hunters. The fact that the Fellowship has shrunk to three characters allows for each of them to have more meaningful interaction, and I felt like Gimli’s character really benefitted the most from it.

I loved his indomitable spirit as the three run after the Uruk-Hai to rescue their abducted companions. He is not the punch line of every joke, as Jackson makes him out to be. He shores up the spirits of his companions. At the outset he proclaims:

‘Dwarves too can go swiftly, and they do not tire sooner than Orcs’ (TT, III, I, 420).

Even more, he is not as simple as Jackson would have us believe. He offers good counsel to Aragorn at a crucial decision:

‘Only by day can we see if any tracks lead away…even I, Dwarf of many journeys, and not the least hardy of my folk, cannot run all the way to Isengard without any pause…and if we rest, then the blind of night is the time to do so’ (TT, III, ii, 425).

So from this section on I always saw Gimli as a fully-formed character. What really made me like Gimli, however is his interaction with Merry and Pippin upon catching up with them at Isengard. His exasperation with the hobbits and his amicability after tobacco is offered as a means of amends endeared him to me. Gimli became a character that I truly enjoyed over this section.

Where Do We Go From Here?

A visit with Saruman, then on to the Dead Marshes.

What Do You Think?

Did you like Gimli’s character?
When did you develop your opinion of Gimli?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

 

 

LotRFI Pt. 26–The White Rider

When the Three Hunters encounter a mysterious old man in Fangorn, I immediately assumed it was Saruman. His way of speaking was so obvious an attempt to avoid revealing his identity from them. There is no reason for anyone else to wish to conceal who they are so completely. The confrontation between the Hunters and the old man is so tense and the stakes so high, unexpectedly, that I thought for a moment that the Hunters would be executed in quick succession.

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Image copyright Ted Nasmith

When this is revealed to be Gandalf, I still had a hard time understanding why he did not reveal himself straight away. Was he testing the Three Hunters? This would be similar to what Aragorn does back at the Prancing Pony with the hobbits. Surely, the powers of evil have set traps for Gandalf before!

It took me a long time to accept that Gandalf has memory issues here, and I still doubt it sometimes. He remembers so much, and is not newly revived, so I did not understand why he should have forgotten who he is when he can remember who Galadriel and Gwaihir are. All this nit picking aside, the return of Gandalf was a complete shock to me.

Of all the miraculous things that happen in books, one that I certainly never expected was the return of Gandalf. The warmth and joviality that the Three Hunters express is as nothing compared to the elation of my little eleven-year-old heart. Especially with the tidings which he brings with him. He tells the others:

Indeed my friends, none of you have any weapon that could hurt me. Be merry! We meet again. At the turn of the tide. That great storm is coming, but the tide has turned. (TT, III, v, 495)

Not only is Gandalf returned, he has returned stronger than he was. He also prophesizes that he and the others are now a part of the side which is gaining in strength, a stark contrast from the waning which characterized their forces earlier. It was a very long time before I would understand what happened to Gandalf. In my first reading, I just knew that he had died and that Something sent him back. Undoubtedly, my Christian upbringing made me assume a particular spiritual connotation to the whole event.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Onward, to King Théoden and the Golden Hall

What Do You Think?

What was your reaction to Gandalf’s reappearance?
​What did you make of his premonition?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt. 24–Legolas

I always found Legolas’s character arc to be one that begins in haughtiness and becomes more approachable as he engages in the hardships of the Fellowship. Looking back with a wider literary reference frame than I had in my first reading, I would almost say that my first interpretation of his transformation would not raise any eyebrows if it were set in a Jane Austen novel, though his bow skills might.

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Image copyright Alan Lee

He is always quick-witted, especially when engaging in repartee with Gimli; however, this arguing transforms into a light-hearted badinage by the end of their time together in Rohan. I always enjoyed watching these two become friends over the course of the tale and appreciated the note about their friendship in the appendices.

As an individual, Legolas is a formidable bowman, he does not defy the law of gravity mind you. He is always a reliable aid to his companions and he shows up when he is needed. For all of these elements, though, I never really felt drawn to Legolas as a character. I think his oft-mentioned ethereal nature made him seem remote from me as a young reader. He was a character to be marveled at, when he walks on the snow of Caradhras, for instance, but not related to.

I think this was underscored for me in Lothlórien when the elves are grieving for Gandalf. Legolas refuses to translate their song for the Fellowship and, by extension, the reader. This always made me feel as though Legolas wanted to be an outsider in some ways. Surely my interpretation of Legolas was, and is, a projection of a part of myself, in that I am reading what I would desire if I were to act as Legolas. To me, though, it is not until later when he volunteers to follow Aragorn on the Paths of the Dead that his desire for attachment is demonstrated.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I suppose we should talk about being ‘Orc dragged’ across Rohan.

What Do You Think?

What was your initial reaction to Legolas?
Did you like Jackson’s super-elf?
​Have I missed anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.21–Boromir the Brave

In a previous post, I indicated that the death of Boromir was not the “breaking” of the fellowship, but its mending. Many readers may question my ability to see this act in such a positive light, given my previous post about my mistrust of Boromir. As I stated earlier, I saw Boromir as totally “corrupted” by the Ring, and this only exhibited itself when Boromir had a chance to fulfill his desires. To me, the fact that Frodo left the company means that Boromir, for all intents and purposes, could never fulfill his desire to obtain the Ring for use in battle. This allows him to be free to be a noble, valiant, courageous man in his final act. No longer under the burden of the ring, his true nature comes back. This does not undermine my earlier interpretation at all. In fact, it bolsters my perspective that Boromir was under the Ring’s influence for the entire trip.

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Image copyright Jef Murray

Several readers will identify the flaw in this reasoning, and I will remind them that I was eleven at the time. The fact is, Boromir did not know that the Ring was lost forever at the time of his sacrifice. He knew that Frodo had run away from him and that enemies were attacking. It is possible that Frodo could be hiding until the attack is over, then he could reappear and oust Boromir from the group. Whatever the case may be, my interpretation is not entirely supported by the sequence of events for the characters in the text. As a child, though, I already knew that Frodo was gone from the fellowship and out of Boromir’s reach, so this influenced my interpretation of events.

This is another instance of what can be called, and has been called by many (most notably Harold Bloom), ‘misreading.’ It is an interpretation of the text that is that a reader honestly holds until she/he later interprets the text in a different way. I should note that, while some of these ‘misreadings’ sometimes prove to be invalid after a later examination of the text, that does not change the important influence that such a reading can have on the reader. In fact, these misreading are an important part of the reader’s experience of the text, since the correction or alteration of interpretation is not a unique experience among readers.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Into the land of the Horse Lords: Rohan!

What Do You Think?

Do you have a ‘misreading’ experience like this?
If so, how has it changed your view of the text over time?
​Am I missing something? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.20–Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Unlike the death of Gandalf, I saw the fissures forming in the Fellowship long before Frodo set out on his own. The decision seemed like the appropriate one to me, and I loved how Sam is the only member of the Fellowship that understands how Frodo is thinking; this understanding put Sam and me in a very small club together. This was one of the first scenes where I started to understand Sam’s depth. His ability to parse out his master’s actions and understand the animating emotions is more than I expected of Sam up to this point. We will have more on my interpretation of Sam later, when he really comes into his own.

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Image copyright Cor Blok

For now, I also wanted to focus on the importance of the “breaking” of the Fellowship. Many fans cheered Jackson’s decision to include the death of Boromir in the first film. I have to admit that I did not appreciate the change for several reasons. First, is the fact that Tolkien’s text is formatted in such a way to emphasize that the end of the Fellowship is not death, but the physical, and perhaps mental, splitting of the group. If death were the cause for the ending of the Fellowship, then the Fellowship was already broken in Moria. The end of the Fellowship, however, is when Boromir falls to temptation and tries to take the ring. This sparks an abiding mistrust in Frodo. This infighting and conflict is the brokenness indicated by the chapter title.

This idea is underscored in the first chapter of the second volume. Here, Boromir mends the rent he caused by dying for Pippin and Merry; furthermore, Aragorn indicates that, if the Fellowship remains true to one another, then it will not have been in vain, regardless of the outcome.

‘My heart speaks clearly at last: the fate of the Bearer is in my hands no longer. The Company has played its part. Yet we that remain cannot forsake our companions while we have strength left’ (TT, I, i, 419).

Therefore the “breaking” of the Fellowship is a temporary condition that exists in the gap between books two and three. It is rectified by Boromir’s death, not caused by it.

This sentiment is one that I felt when I was younger, but I could not really express it well. It has taken considerable time and reflection to be able to make it seem as clean and neat as it does here.

Where do wee go from here?

I want to focus on Boromir’s death a bit more, then head into Rohan!

​What do you think?

Did you like Jackson’s change?
What do you think is the true “breaking of the Fellowship?”
​Have I missed something? Let me know!